By Siddharth Kara, Special to CNN
Editor’s Note: Trafficking expert Siddharth Kara is a Harvard fellow and author of the award-winning book, "Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery." For more than 15 years, he has traveled around the world to research modern-day slavery, interviewing thousands of former and current slaves. Kara also advises the United Nations and governments on anti-slavery research and policy.
Whenever I talk on human trafficking, I am almost always asked what people can do to help.
To be sure, the forces that promote human trafficking are immense -– from extreme poverty, to corruption, lawlessness, population displacement, gender and minority bias, economic globalization and others. In the face of such vast and complex forces, everyday citizens can feel powerless to make a real difference.
Nevertheless, there are vital steps that individuals can take to help bring an end to human trafficking and other forms of contemporary slavery.
Beyond increasing your knowledge of the issue, perhaps the most important way individuals can contribute is to form a system of human trafficking vigilance committees in their communities.
It may sound daunting, but here are a few simple steps to get started.
1. Learn about the many signs that indicate a person may be a victim of human trafficking or some other form of forced labor.
2. Assemble a core group of individuals who will set up and manage your Community Vigilance Committee (CVC).
3. Recruit other community members to join your CVC, such as neighbors and local business owners. Make a plan that suits everyone on how and when you can meet to discuss your efforts.
4. Make contact with local law enforcement, especially a local human trafficking police unit if you have one, to set up a system of reporting to a point person should any member of your CVC witness a sign of human trafficking. Follow the guidance of local law enforcement on the best ways you can assist them.
5. Make contact with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that focus on human trafficking (especially shelters), to discuss your plans and set up a system of referral should you need to pass along information about a potential human trafficking victim in your area. Follow the guidance of these NGOs on how you can be most effective in assisting them.
6. If there are no relevant NGOs or shelters in your area, think about setting one up!
7. Create a website in which you share your progress and learnings, so that you can coordinate with other CVCs to expand your reach, and also learn from each other about how to be more effective.
8. Set up a “Google Alert” for human trafficking. This will help you stay on top of trends and developments in the field.
9. Make contact with your local and state lawmakers to learn more about what they are doing to combat human trafficking in your area. If you feel they are not doing enough, try to persuade them to do more.
10. Should any member of your CVC see something worrying from the list of signs of human trafficking - do not intervene in any way individually or as a group. Meet and discuss what you have seen and report to local law enforcement as soon as possible.
If you follow these 10 steps, you will be well on your way towards making a considerable contribution in the fight against human trafficking.
As dedicated as law enforcement, NGOs, and local governments may be, they cannot be everywhere at all times. It is up to individual citizens to expand the “eyes and ears” of traditional anti-trafficking actors by taking ownership of their communities and being as informed and vigilant as possible.
Countless human trafficking victims have been freed, and numerous cases have been prosecuted thanks to the efforts of Good Samaritans who noticed something was amiss, and reported to police what they saw.
Today’s global anti-trafficking movement will benefit mightily from community vigilance efforts, which serve as vital initiatives individuals can undertake to help in the fight against human trafficking, one community at a time.
The opinions expressed in this guest blog post are solely those of Siddharth Kara.